Dayna Stephens told me that 2020 was both his loneliest year and his most productive as a jazz composer. An annus horribilis plus. Besides two cds released and at least one other major commission, he wrote and demo’d a song cycle for Lions With Wings — my Bandcamp vamp — based on four archetypes: The Nomad, The Prophet, The Hero and The Artist.
Two of the archetype songs he had finished and mastered and have been streaming on Lions With Wings. Finished in the sense of making do during COVID times; I think there is an entire genre of bubble sessions or DIY or good enough for these times, the new normal, et cetera. In my case, I completed seven concerts as a promoter, cancelled another 10 onsales but pivoted to the online-project in June and have Dayna and several others at least keeping the devil at bay by not idling.
But then last night his texts punctured my NYE bubble by including what are somewhere between demos and finished performances. Instead of listening to the countdown of the ball on Times Square via CNN and Anderson Cooper I was listening to Dayna Stephens riffing on or transforming Neil Howe*.
I will set aside the source material for these works, for the moment. And let’s ignore the mixed metaphor of Lions With Wings, or the astrological Leo.
I am thrilled to be affiliated with this song cycle. I am the digital and moral steward of these works, although Dayna owns them. He was Downbeat’s Rising Star on tenor sax but he also gives Lions With Wings its lift.
In a related matter, Eric Cohen and I were discussing last night to what extent I am a Baby Boomer or a Gen X — my birthday is January 28, 1964. I was not alive when Kennedy was shot — JFK — but I’m certain I felt it through my mother. Likewise, I thought of myself as a Dragon when I first heard of Chinese astrology, but later realized I’m actually a Rabbit.
For Dayna, we have to consider whether these last two works are finished — even without a drum part he imagines — timed to the “crossing” his word of 2020 and 2021, or they are still in progress and process. and there is no auspice to finishing literally at stroke of 12 (PST) on 12/31/20.
I am guessing that all four tracks should be listened to in succession; maybe its the order in which he sent them to me, but who knows. (There are 24 ways to do this). If the drum machine, click track stuff is meant to simulate a human drum solo, I’d say that given the futuristic or prognostic nature of the source material, it’s ok to use weird modern substitutes. It all showcase’s Dayna’s unique analog song, although I really don’t know if he plays four or five parts or has some guests weaved in, epistolary manner. And in some cases he seems to be playing three horn parts, so obviously in a live setting he would have accompaniment.
And despite being a Luddite, it was cool to walk my dog around the block and carry Dayna’s music — or a very good simulation – in my hand, digitally, digging it all.
The Artist’s piece had a subhead; it’s actually called, for now, “The Artist: Si, Grazie 2020”
*Neil Howe is actually from Palo Alto and went to Cubberley; not sure I want to know more about his thesis beyond knowing it inspired Dayna. I used to be into Joseph Campbell “The Hero with A thousand Faces” plus took a Jungian course at UC Berkeley Extension in SF once with a guy named Sherwood I think. Orestia et al. Plus, reading Faustus at Dartmouth with James Shapiro.
Eden Ladin – Piano, Łukas Vesely – Bass, Jaimeo Brown – Drums & Percussion, John Harvey – Master Engineer
(not sure if that’s for the whole session or the first two tracks; not sure who the vocalizing is by….worpdress ate a graph listing the names of his two releases, Liberty and Right Now…plus some links…likeWise I’m not sure why it’s above the photo but there are three draft versions of the scan or album cover in each case artwork by Dayna himself